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 Wednesday, 22 January, 2003, 16:51 GMT
Thousands flee Burundi fighting
Burundian refugees
Civilians bear the brunt of Burundi's civil war
Up to 60,000 people are reported to have fled recent fighting between the army and ethnic Hutu rebels of the Forces for the Defence of Democracy (FDD) in central Burundi.

There are reports of the army using heavy artillery in the central province of Gitega, and fierce battles in the east and the north-west.

The BBC's Christophe Nkurunziza in the capital, Bujumbura, says that the fighting has escalated as a meeting between President Pierre Buyoya and FDD leader Pierre Nkurunziza approaches.

He says both sides are trying to capture as much territory as possible ahead of peace talks which are scheduled to resume in Pretoria within the next few days.

The violence has continued despite both sides signing a ceasefire last December.

Looted

Some of the people who have fled in Gitega are sheltering in Catholic churches outside the towns where they live, and thousands of others have travelled many miles from the fighting.

Others have fled to neighbouring provinces or even across the border to Tanzania.

FDD rebels
Rebels are supposed to join a new army

Among the many attacks in Gitega province, some 40 gunmen, alleged to be FDD rebels, raided a district in the main city of Bugendana, looting people's homes.

A local resident was severely wounded after trying to cry for help.

Tension is also mounting in the neighbouring province of Cankuzo, where the authorities say the rebels have been getting reinforcements from across the border, in Tanzania.

Army reform

Neither the army nor the rebels have provided casualty figures, but there are reports of civilians killed in the east of the country.

Burundian army soldiers
The army is dominated by ethnic Tutsis
Earlier this week, 10 soldiers are believed to have died in a rebel ambush.

More than 300,000 people, mainly civilians, have been killed in the 10-year civil war in Burundi.

The ethnic Tutsi minority has traditionally dominated Burundi.

The talks in South Africa are set to tackle issues such as restructuring the army and giving cabinet posts to FDD leaders.

  WATCH/LISTEN
  ON THIS STORY
  Mr Gerard, UN Humanitarian Affairs on Network Africa
"The situation is still unstable in certain areas"

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15 Jan 03 | Africa
14 Jan 03 | Africa
16 Dec 02 | Africa
10 Dec 02 | Africa
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